A year ago, if you would have asked me how often my children ate at McDonald’s, I would have made a funny face and muttered something about “as little as possible.”
I had this whole routine down where my oldest would beg and beg to stop there on the way home from daycare every evening and I would say, “McDonald’s is not healthy food. We only eat there on special occasions. You can choose to eat there on your birthday!”
For most of my adult-life, McDonald’s has represented all that is wrong with our country’s eating habits, obesity as a nation and periods of my own unhealthy binging. It represented danger and overweight children and overweight adults (including me). I did not want my children to think that “Happy Meals” were everyday foods. I did not want them thinking McDonald’s was normal for us.
Of course, I’m picking on McDonald’s here – mention any fast food restaurant that serves toys to children and I’ll gladly put them in the same category.
And then something happened. One day, my children came home from spending the weekend with their father telling me stories about McDonald’s. How my daughter, who has severe food allergies, was now able to eat there. They were jumping up and down with excitement telling me all about it (okay, perhaps the jumping is just in my memory, but there was definite excitement).
Over the next 48 hours there were a few discussions between me and their father … and me and the manager at my local McDonald’s… researching how on earth the Chicken McNuggets could actually be safe for my child.
And it turns out, they are – at least in terms of food allergies. No egg, no dairy, no peanuts or tree nuts, and no cross contamination issue. Of course they sure are not my definition of healthy or the organic version of chicken nuggets I buy from Whole Foods to serve at home. But they ARE something my daughter can eat from a restaurant without going into anaphylactic shock. And well, that’s something.
I tried to force myself to think of it from her point of view. “The chicken nuggets are SAFE FOR ME!” she said in her little four year old voice, with wide eyes like it was Christmas morning. Suddenly, going to McDonald’s was a way for my little girl to suddenly be like her sibling and the other kids who eat out. She can have a real Happy Meal with Chicken McNuggets and apple juice and apple slices (no fries, because they have a milk protein in them).
And then I began to realize the convenience of eating out with my children or running through a drive through without having to pack a meal before leaving the house… for the first time in three years.
Over the course of the last 6 months, McDonald’s went from being dangerous and evil (in my mind)… to (kind of) normal. It reminds me of when my oldest was an infant and how I kept him away from the TV for a full year, trying for 2. And how I was disappointed to hear the TV was on at daycare AT ALL when he was awake, for fear he might watch it. By the time my second child came along, TV was no longer evil – it was normal. I simply had bigger fish to fry than worrying about my child catching 30 seconds (or minutes) of TV in between playing with her stuffed animals.
This experience has really taught me something about being a parent. About my opinions and my influence on my children. About finding balance and moderation. About helping my daughter to feel normal in a world where she is constantly asking, “is this safe for me?” And about watching how much I judge others, because you never know how they ended up there.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suddenly endorsing McDonald’s or suggesting you all go there. You won’t find me hosting sponsored blog posts or giving away coupons for Happy Meals. I much prefer eating at Chipotle with my kiddos – another safe place for my daughter’s food allergies. I appreciate their approach to food, which includes a higher portion of natural/organic/locally sourced foods. But those are really the only two places that we’ve had consistent success and can order relatively quickly without needing a whole lot of accommodations for food allergies.
They’ve both made my life easier and my daughter’s life a little less different. And my mind a little more open. And for that I’m thankful.
You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.
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